Last week I was driving down to Tulsa to buy a new family car.
We got a 2006 Lexus GX470, and it is awesome.
My favorite part of the trip was leaving the bank with the keys and title in hand after the previous owner signed it over and got his lien release…
And the previous owner asks me: “What sort of interest rate did you get on your car loan?”
“None.” I told him. “I paid with cash.”
But here’s the thing, I would have paid cash for our car even if The Focus Course had not done 6 figures in 7 days.
My wife and I have been driving a 1994 Chevy Cavalier Wagon for over 11 years. The thing is ugly, but it’s reliable and very inexpensive to own and maintain.
Five years ago we bought a 2001 Jeep Cherokee (paid cash then, too). And since then we have made “car payments” to ourselves. We knew that one day we would have to replace our car. So, we started saving, and now, 5 years later, we had the cash saved up ready to use for our next car.
Lastly, is the challenge of keeping a frugal mindset and finding the best car we could that was within our budget to buy with cash. I spent months looking for a car that was in good shape, low miles, that had been garaged, and would last us for the next 5-10 years without troubles.
* * *
The way you live beneath your means is by living beneath your means.
It’s a choice.
It’s not always an easy one (I have never liked that white-on-rust Chevy Cavalier). But I was happy to hang on to it because it allowed us the financial margin we needed to stay ahead and stay debt free.
My next course is about showing up every day, doing your best creative work, building an audience, and earning an income.
Right now the working title of the course is “The Creative Life”.
Because ultimately, this course is about developing the mindset, habits, and resources you need to do your best creative work.
But more on all of that another time…
- My own experience, stories, and wisdom.
- The experiences, stories, and wisdom of others.
At best, I have only a very small glimpse and perspective. So I lean on the wisdom and perspective of others.
Here are a few of the books that have helped me show up every day, do my best creative work, build an audience, and earn an income.
The Personal MBA, by Josh Kaufman
Creativity Inc., by Ed Catmull
Show Your Work, by Austin Kleon
Deep Work, by Cal Newport
The Innovator’s Dilemma, by Clayton M. Christensen
Die Empty, by Todd Henry
The Accidental Creative, by Todd Henry
The Customer Funded Business, by John Mullins
The Creative Habit, by Twyla Tharp
Anything You Want, by Derek Sivers
Ask, by Ryan Levesque
Zero to One, by Peter Thiel
People Over Profit, by Dale Partridge
This past weekend I rented a car, drove 4 hours to Tulsa, bought a new (to me) family car that I’d found on Craigslist, and drove it back.
To accompany me on the road trip, I loaded up the audiobook version of Creativity Inc..
I began reading it on Kindle about a year ago, but only made it to chapter 5. I’ve been wanting to dive back in, and this was a great opportunity.
There is so much gold in this book.
One particular tidbit that stuck out to me from the chapter on Honesty and Candor.
People who take on complicated creative projects become lost at some point in the process. It is the nature of things — in order to create, you must internalize and almost become the project for a while, and that near-fusing with the project is an essential part of its emergence. But it is also confusing. Where once a movie’s writer/director had perspective, he or she loses it. Where once he or she could see a forest, now there are only trees. The details converge to obscure the whole, and that makes it difficult to move forward substantially in any one direction. The experience can be overwhelming.
If you’ve ever begun working a new project, learning a new skill, or the like, and you get into it and feel completely overwhelmed, lost, and confused — don’t freak out.
As Ed Catmull says, it is the nature of things.
How do you press through that feeling of overwhelm?
For one you keep going. You keep showing up every day, making choices, and doing the work. With patience, you will find clarity.
Secondly, you need community. People who can give candid advice, encouragement, and feedback. People who will level with you and keep you accountable to your goals.
What you’re looking at here is some white board scribbling that represents the first module of my next course.
The white board is so messy and random, you might think this was our very first whiteboard session for Module One.
Actually, this is the fourth whiteboard session we’ve had like this in the past two weeks.
This is our process of taking things apart and putting them back together again.
I’m working on a new course that’s about doing your best creative work, moving from hobbyist to pro, building and caring for an audience, and making a few dollars from your creative work.
Right now the course outline consists of more than 90 individual sessions within 6 modules. Plus worksheets. Plus interviews. Plus easter eggs.
That is a massive amount of content. It’s too much.
Who has the time to work their way through all of that?
That’s why we’re trying to distill the outline down to what is most essential.
And it starts by taking apart each module and asking: What is the single most important takeaway here?
- What is the single most important lesson for someone who wants to do their best creative work?
- What is the single most important lesson for someone who wants to move from hobby to pro?
- What is the single most important lesson for someone who wants to define and build their audience?
- What is the single most important lesson for someone who wants to steward their audience and give provide value?
- What is the single most important lesson for someone who wants to make an income from their creative work?
- What is the single most important lesson for someone who wants to build and sell their products?
For us, we’re still in the preparation phase on all of these modules. We know all the surrounding ideas, mindsets, tactics, and tools. I’ve been writing about this stuff for years.
The aim right now is to get the outline clear so we can get to work on putting the pieces in place.
How do you edit an outline?
You take it apart and put it back together again.
You question your assumptions and hypothesis.
You try writing it out in a way that makes sense to your grandparents.
Then try writing it so it makes sense to your neighbor across the street.
Then you re-write again with your ideal customer in mind.
You make sure you’re answering all the questions and challenges your ideal customer is facing.
* * *
The above photo represents the fourth time we’ve taken apart this outline and put it back together again.
First we started with sticky notes on the whiteboard.
Then we moved the sticky notes onto posters on the wall. (We needed the whiteboard back.)
Then I re-wrote it all onto note cards.
Then we went back to white board drawings, which you see above.
We keep taking apart all the pieces, looking at them, asking why they’re there, and then putting the whole thing back together again.
Each pass we make at the outline things become a bit more clear.
Once we start taking it apart and putting it back together the same way, then it’ll be time to start writing.
If you’re interested in going behind-the-scenes at the creation of this course, and getting early access to the content, we’re looking for pilot course members.
There are some pretty great benefits, which I’ll share later.
Sign up over here to get on the list, and I’ll let you know once we open the doors.
Right now I’m wrapping up the second article in my Focus Course Case Study. (The first article, that’s all about the launch of the course is here).
As I’m working on this next article, something I’ve realized is that I have two modes of work:
- Monk Mode
- Publishing Mode
(Well, there is also the “Super Distracted Mode” and “Ugh, Bookkeeping Mode”…)
Long-time readers of this site have seen my Monk and Publishing modes first hand. I really went into “monk mode” early last year in the months leading up to the Focus Course launch. My days began to get very full with “deep work”. I was working longer-than-normal days and also usually working a few hours on the weekends as well.
All those hours were spent in research, reading, and writing for the course. Pretty much the only thing I was publishing was my once-a-week articles — a huge difference in publishing output compared to the first several years of this site when I was posting links and articles every single day.
What I’ve discovered is that when I’m in Monk Mode, I kinda go dark to the outside world. I spend all of my working hours with my keyboard, some books, my team, and a whiteboard. I don’t publish much to the site, my podcast episodes get sparse, I don’t update Twitter or Instagram all that much.
But when I’m in “Publishing Mode” then it’s the opposite. Most of my working hours are spent publishing things to my site, tweeting, etc. But I’m not focusing on any particular project or product.
A goal of mine right now is to get better at operating in both of these modes simultaneously.
I’m a huge advocate of showing up every day. But that coin has two sides: you’ve got to show up and do the work, but you’ve also got to share that work. You have to show up every day and do something, but you also have to show up every day and share something.
Lately I’m great at the former, not so great at the latter.
To peel the curtain back, I am in search of a work environment and rhythm that supports (a) deep work and creating huge pillar products while also (b) frequent publishing of articles, podcasts, ideas, links, inspiration, etc.
I’d like to get better at sharing artifacts from my daily work and opening the door to my creative process while also keeping my ability to stay in “Monk Mode” on a regular basis, focusing on building big projects.
And!… I want to do it all while working reasonable hours and maintaining margin in my day-to-day life. Piece of cake, right?
Once a day, after you’ve done your day’s work, go back to your documentation and find one little piece of your process that you can share.
I’m now beginning work on my next big course, that will be all about content creation and building an audience. And as part of the creative process for this course, I’m also committing to share more of my work as I go. It’s with the understanding that the process of doing our best creative work every day is a messy one — it’s a fight to stay creative.
Tomorrow is my birthday. And every year around this time I open up Day One and jot down an unordered list of reflections and thoughts on life.
It’s a chance for me to give advice to my future self. What are the things I’m learning and observing in this season of life that I may need to be reminded of in a year from now?
Here are a few from previous years:
- Serving others always has a reward.
- Generosity is never regretted.
- It’s worth it to sweat the details and do work you’re proud of.
- Don’t be afraid to take a risk – the biggest “risks” I’ve ever made, such as proposing to my wife, starting a business, moving to another state, they have all proven to be some of the most important life changes and have been so positive.
- Life is almost entirely a series of small, almost inconsequential choices and moments. All the little things that you do (and don’t do) are actually what paint the picture of your life. If you want a different life, make a small change to one thing and stick with it. Then change something else. Then something else.
And here are a few from this year:
Never underestimate the power of having a plan and keeping accountable to your progress. Because it’s far too easy to confuse activity with progress. I’m really good at “being active” but it takes much more intentionality to make sure that what I’m doing each day is putting one foot in front of the other.
Reading (learning) is becoming a competitive advantage in today’s knowledge worker / creative entrepreneurial landscape.
Be more cautious not to squander a few minutes here and there throughout my day. Stay on top of batch processing my Instapaper / Safari Tabs / Email / etc. Take more frequent breaks away from the desk in order to make space for longer hours of focused work.
Once you’ve committed to do your best creative work, you may find that it can get lonely.
Sometimes it’s lonely by default…
You’re in “monk mode”. You’re disappearing to your cave for hours at a time to get some serious work done.
Or it’s lonely because the project is top of mind — it’s all you’re thinking about. Except it’s still the early stages of the project, and so you’re not yet clear enough on things to have any sort of coherent conversation about it. Your words just come out as fragmented ramblings while your conversation partner stares back blankly, trying desperately to follow along.
Showing up every day is hard enough work by itself. And because of how natural it can be to do the work in isolation, community becomes all the more valuable.
Last summer, a few weeks after I launched The Focus Course, my wife and I hosted a backyard BBQ party to celebrate.
I had just spent the better part of my past year working on it, and the vast majority of that time I spent alone. But it’s not a project I could have done completely alone.
There were so many people who were involved, those who helped with the project itself and those friends who encouraged me along the way.
So we invited anyone and everyone who had been involved at all with the building of the course. We served BBQ, played games, and told them thank you.
Building something can often be isolating and lonely. Especially for the independent creative entrepreneur.
You put in hours and hours and hours of work while sitting alone in your cave. Don’t let that work stay isolated.
Don’t let yourself experience your failures and successes alone.
Share them with others, invite your friends and family into what you’re doing. They need you just as much as you need them.
This coming Thursday, June 23, it will be exactly one-year since The Focus Course launched.
For those of you who have built and launched something, you know first hand just how much work goes in to it. Especially if you’re a perfectionist and need everything to be just right.
So yeah, building and launching the course was a massive amount of work. And what made things even harder is that, at virtually every step of the way, I had no idea what I was doing.
So many things about The Focus Course were new for me; I was hesitant and unsure about so many aspects. I wrestled with every decision about how to validate, market, price, build, and launch the course…
For each step, I was desperate for any help I could find.
Some of the places I found the most help were from friends and peers who had gone before me and shared the details of their experiences — including actual numbers.
I would like to pay that forward by doing an in-depth case study, sharing all that has happened behind-the-scenes with launching and building The Focus Course over the past year.
I’m going to share everything about the course launch
Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting a series of articles detailing all the stories, strategies, and takeaways I’ve learned during this past year.
- How much revenue the course made during its launch week, and how much it has made in the year since.
- Why I gutted my 17,000-word book and made an online course instead.
- My workflow and tools used for building the course.
- How I ran the pilot test group.
- My entire marketing and launch sequence.
- How I iterated on the course after launch.
- Why I offer a 60-day money-back guarantee.
- My approach to joint-venture launches and partnerships in a way that adds value to past and new members alike.
- How and why I re-invested money back into the course after it launched.
- All the software and services we now use to keep the course running day-to-day.
- What I would do the same and what I would do differently.
Like I said, I’m going to share everything.
I hope my experiences and the lessons I’ve learned can be of help to you.
(I’m also posting this information here for my future self. I have an all-new course in the works for this fall, and I plan to build and launch it very similarly to how I did The Focus Course last year.)
What questions do you have?
So, before we get started, I wanted to open up the floor for any questions from you guys.
Do you have a product you’re working on or that you’re already selling? Are you trying to build an audience? Just curious about something in particular?
If there is anything you would like to know about the launch of The Focus Course, just ask.
I’ll try to answer as many of your questions as I can in the upcoming articles.
As you may know, there are nearly 600 folks — including yours truly — who are going through The Focus Course right now.
We’re a few days in, and our Focus Course assignment for today entailed listing out my life values.
Two of the values I listed may not really count as “values”. But oh well, I listed them anyway. One value was Business Savvy and another was Work / Life Balance.
Then, for each value I listed, I also had to write a description of how I express that value in my life.
Now, the tricky part here is that the descriptions have to be written as if I already live it out exactly as I would want to. Which, to be honest, is a challenge. Because, at least for me, I see my faults all too well.
Nevertheless, I wrote my descriptions for what what the value of Business Savvy looks like and what the value of Work / Life Balance looks like for me.
And as I was writing my description out, it dawned on me that so often we pit work and life against one another. As if work is bad and life is good. And that is a completely wrong mindset.
That said, I wanted to share with you how I defined Work / Life Balance for my own life.
Work / Life Balance
I have a strong drive to do my best creative work and to build a business that matters. I also have a deep love for my family and friends and living a healthy and full life.
These two things are not mutually exclusive. And so I don’t feel guilty about the time I spend working, and neither do I feel anxiety when taking time off of work.
My work responsibilities and goals are very important, but I don’t let them dominate my entire day as they are wont to do. I refuse to look back on my career and feel regret about spending too much time working and not enough time with my friends and family. But I also refuse to shy away from doing my best work every single day.
I understand the time I spend away from the work is just as important as the time I spend doing the work.
And so I refuse to live a life that’s driven by an addiction to the urgent. I know what healthy boundaries are, and I know that there will always be “one more thing” to do when it comes to my work. With that in mind, I don’t let the “seemingly urgent” tasks of my work dictate my schedule.
We meet again for another Fantastic Friday.
Under normal circumstances, right now I’d be packing for WWDC. I’ve been to the conference in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015.
Alas, this year, I won’t be attending. The main reason being that I have two trips already scheduled for this fall, and felt that was enough travel for the year.
(Side note, come join me for seanwes conference and hear me speak.)
Secondly, we’ve just kicked off Focus Camp, and I wanted to be available to devote my full energy to that.
So, I’ll be watching the WWDC keynote from my basement instead of a hotel room at Parc 55. And I’ll be making my coffee at home instead of standing in line at Blue Bottle. Those of you headed out, don’t have too much fun without me!
And here are some of this week’s best links and items of note.
The Baron Fig Vanguard: These new notebooks from my favorite notebook maker are stellar. For me, the vanguard is not a full-on replacement for the Confidant, but I’m putting them to work as a single-purpose notebook. Using a Charcoal, Flagship, Dot Grid Vanguard (whew!) as my dedicated notebook while I work through the courses in Digital Commerce Academy.
Ugmonk 2.0: My friend, Jeff Sheldon, makes the coolest t-shirts and mouse pads you’ve ever seen. And he just launched a massive update to his brand and website. I also highly recommend you subscribe to the Ugmonk Journal. Jeff is a guy who walks the walk, and he’s going to be sharing a lot of the behind-the-scenes info of how he runs his business.
You Need a Business Model: Fantastic article from Jessica Abel. To make a living doing your creative work you need (a) skill at your creative endeavor, (b) systems for making constant progress, and (c) a business model so you can actually make a few bucks. What’s awesome is that all three of these things can be learned.
Quote of the week: “Success is not delivering a feature; success is learning how to solve the customer’s problem.” — Mark Cook, as quoted in The Lean Startup.
In a world where we value shipping early and shipping often, we can often loose sight of the purpose of shipping. If you’re trying to build a business, grow an audience, and provide value to others, then what you ship should serve that goal.
And I believe this sits in harmony with the idea of “scratching your own itch”. Because if what you’re shipping is a solution to a problem you face, then chances are very likely it’s a problem other people face as well.
That’s a pretty wonderful place to be in. Where you’re simultaneously solving your audience’s problems and also building products you love and are proud of.
If you’ve ever received an email from me where I asked you about your biggest challenge, now you know why. My aim is to get an understanding of what obstacles you’re facing and what tools I have in my tool belt that I can share with you to help you overcome those obstacles.
This week for Fantastic Friday I want to peel back the curtain a bit and share some personal notes.
I didn’t fully realize it until this week when it really hit me, but for the past several weeks (at least) I’ve been living with quite a bit of stress.
This morning I sat down and journaled out all the big projects going on right now.
Seeing each one listed out next to the others was eye opening.
The first thing I said to myself was: “Shawn, what were you thinking!?”
Now, people tell me that I write a lot about living a focused life. And so, in lieu of those topics, I think it’s important for me to share both sides of the coin: the things I do well and the things that I don’t.
(That’s why I shared about my own laziness.)
And so, today, for Fantastic Friday, I want to share with you a few of the small things I do to help keep my laziness in check.
Moreover, what I love about these things is that they also help during seasons of stress.
When you’re dealing with overwhelm, there are two responses. You either need to reclaim some margin back into your life, or you’ve just got to press on until you get the breakthrough.
If the latter, it’s helpful to have a few “lifestyle practices” to help keep you on track. Below are a few of mine.
Thanks, and enjoy your weekend!
1. Reading Daily
I read quite a bit during the work day, but also in the evenings. My routine is that every evening between 7 and 8pm I do something useful or productive. Such as reading, spending time with friends or family, or doing handy work around the house. That hour isn’t for cramming in yet more office work, but neither is it for zoning out.
(Side note: Right now I’m re-reading The Lean Startup. Highly recommended if you find yourself in the position of trying to build something of value while in the midst of extreme uncertainty.)
2. Writing Daily
When I start my work day, I make myself write before I do anything else.
3. Family Time and Weekly Date Night
As a type-A creative entrepreneur, it can be so easy for me to have work on the brain at all times. And combine that with a to-do list is literally never ending, and there’s always a reason to work long hours.
But I refuse to look back in 5-10 years from now and wish I would have spent more time with my family. Having boundaries around my work time and family time is a pretty no-brainer way of making sure work life doesn’t take over family life.
I journal for the sake of recognizing and celebrating progress. It’s one of the best ways to build and keep momentum in your life.
* * *
Okay, one more tidbit…
Here are two quotes I use often throughout The Focus Course:
“People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures.” — F.M. Alexander
“You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” — John C. Maxwell
By far and away, the best way to keep the needle moving forward in life is to have smarter “defaults” for how to spend your time and energy.
If you choose the right actions and attitudes long enough, they begin to choose you back. And you find yourself naturally gravitating toward the behaviors you want to do as a lifestyle rather than the things you feel like doing in the moment.
You can get clarity about your own “lifestyle practices” by going through the Focus Course. There’s a group (including yours truly) that are going through it together this summer. I hope you’ll join us.
And I’ll tell you why in a minute.
If you recall, last Wednesday I wrote about why you should show up every day.
And then on Friday, I shared some thoughts on Hustle.
(As a side note, I received more feedback from last Friday’s article about hustle than on any other article in recent memory.)
Which is why today, and over the coming weeks, if you’ll permit me, I’d like to continue on in this conversation…
There are three projects in the works right now. All of which are designed to help you show up every day.
Focus Camp: A group of hundreds of folks who’ll all be going through The Focus Course together.
A special project I’ve been working on with my friend Brett Kelly (of Evernote Essentials fame) that we’ll be giving away for free to everyone that signs up for Focus Camp.
Something else that I’m not ready to announce just yet.
* * *
Now, as I said, I’m lazy.
And I’m not being hyperbolic.
Every evening after my two boys go to bed all I want to do is eat ice cream and watch Netflix.
Or, in the morning, when I sit down to my desk with coffee in hand, ready to work. So often I’d prefer to browse the Internet until lunchtime.
But if I spent the first half of my work day surfing the web, I’d never get around to writing.
Which is why diligence is so critical to living a focused life and doing our best creative work.
What if I told you that you could “automate” hustle?
Or, in less nerdy terms…
What if showing up every day was a natural part of your routine?
Good news: it can be.
It’s hard at first because inertia is working against you. But it gets easier as you build momentum.
Diligence is a muscle you can strengthen. It’s a skill you can learn. A character trait you can cultivate.
If you choose something long enough, eventually it will choose you back.
On Friday I’ll share with you a few of the small things I do to help keep my laziness in check so that showing up every day is simply a part of my routine.
* * *
By the way, getting clarity and diligence is what The Focus Course is all about.
If you go through the course with a group of people I promise you it’ll be way more fun and it will be much harder to quit.
Please join me and several hundred more folks as we go through the course together starting June 8th.
You can’t throw a rock at the internet without hitting a webpage where someone is talking about hustle.
Ask Gary Vaynerchuk how he defines hustle and he’ll tell you it’s “maximizing the energy you put into what you are passionate about.”
In his book, he says that hustle is the one tangible thing people can do to change the direction of there lives.
“If you want to turn up the hustle, you just have to spend more time doing whatever it is that takes you where you want to go.”
I’ve been thinking about this a lot.
And, well… I simultaneously do and don’t agree with Gary’s definition of hustle.
Because the term hustle also carries with it a bit of baggage and the idea that sleep and rest are the enemy. So I gravitate toward the word diligence, even though, really, I see diligence and hustle as close to synonymous.
The truth is, we only have (at best) a capacity of 3-4 hours per day that we can spend on deep and focused work.
And so, in order to maximize the energy we put into what we are passionate about, we need to live a healthy (a.k.a. balanced) life so that the time which we dedicate to our work is as efficient and impactful as possible.
In a nut: checking email 30 times per day is not “hustling”.
For me, to make every minute count, means:
- Living with focus.
- Minimizing distractions.
- Showing up to do the work.
- Taking time to rest well.
- Reading and learning.
- Accepting the ebb and flow of work.
- Spending time with my family.
- Saying no.
To make every minute count you’ve got to make every future minute count also.
And that means living a life today that won’t leave you burnt out and broke in 5 or 10 years.
Greg McKeown on Working Smarter, Not Harder
From his book, Essentialism:
What is the obstacle that is keeping you back from achieving what really matters to you? By systematically identifying and removing this “constraint” you’ll be able to significantly reduce the friction seeing you from executing what is essential.
Before we just try to throw more hours at something, consider first what obstacles may be keeping us back?
For example, if someone is watching 5 hours of TV every night, there’s a pretty huge opportunity for reclaiming that time to spend it on more valuable things.
The crew at Fizzle recently put out an excellent podcast episode regarding “why hustle hurts you”. It’s a balanced and thoughtful discussion about the value of resting well and being okay with not-yet-breakthrough results in our business or side project.
In short: momentum. But that’s just one of the plethora of benefits of having a deep work activity that you show up every day for.
Your’s Truly, Regarding Goals
This little tidbit is adapted from one of the days in Module Two of The Focus Course.
There are two “camps” when it comes to goal setting.
On one side are those who champion for clear goal setting with a very intense, daily system for tracking your progress. This can be extremely helpful for the professional athlete, but it’s not always practical for everyone.
On the other side are those who champion for little to no goal setting at all. The mantra here is that it’s all about the joy in the journey.
There is value and truth in both of these camps. When we have a clear goal, it’s a way to define what the fruit of our life’s values and vision may look like, and this gives us something to be motivated toward and work for. That motivated state helps us make progress toward the things that are important in life.
If you spin the phrases of “qualitative” and “quantitative”, you get this dual-sided approach to goal setting.
By defining your goals you’re giving yourself something quantitative to attain. And then you can build a quality-of-life-centric lifestyle that is based on the foundation of your vision and values.
In short, you’re not only moving forward in the aim of attaining a tangible goal, but you’re also finding joy in the process.
It works like this: Decisiveness brings motivation for action; action brings clarity; clarity helps us make future decisions.
To me, this is what hustle is all about. Working hard to reach for a goal while also taking great joy in the process. Casting off as many distractions as possible and living a focused (and healthy) life.
Because if you do, you’ll be more creative, you’ll make more money, you’ll improve at your craft, and you’ll build an audience. And gosh-darnit, people will like you!
I’m completely serious.
You may never write a NYT Best Seller or have a billion dollar exit. But showing up every day to do your best work will absolutely leave you better off.
Diligence is the single most important component to creativity and building a business.
Just ask these clever guys:
“Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you’re doomed.” — Ray Bradbury, hard-working writer
“The keys to success are patience, persistence, and obsessive attention to detail.” — Jeff Bezos, hard-working entrepreneur
“Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself.” — Chuck Close, hard-working painter
Do you see why diligence is more important than money, talent, relationships, audience, tools, or anything else?
It’s through your diligence (your persistence) that you build those assets.
Showing up every day is how you go about making money, developing your skills, building relationships, growing your audience, and mastering your tools.
Showing up every day means you have passion and focus. Why else would you do what you’re doing?
(Of course, there’s more to it than just showing up. You’ve got to be intentional about how you’re spending your time. (Work smarter, not harder.) But that’s a topic for we’ll get to later.)
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Here are a few other advantages to showing up every day:
By showing up every day, you’ve stopped waiting passively for inspiration to mosey on by. Instead you’ve turned the act of doing your your best work into part of your daily routine. Now you’re playing offense.
Doing focused, creative work every day is challenging and, at times, even mundane. Your diligence helps you build a resistance so you don’t quit when it gets difficult.
After a few years of showing up every day to do the work, you’ll have invaluable experience and perspective about how seasons of life go up and down. You’ll have a better story to tell about your work. (This goes hand-in-hand with developing your resistance to the mundane.)
Diligence in one area of your life will bleed over into other areas. It’s a skill you can learn.
Quantity also breeds confidence. The more you do something, the more confident you become. Stick with it and you’ll slowly take ownership. You’ll realize you’re a writer and not just someone who writes; a photographer and not just someone who bought a camera; an entrepreneur, not an imposter.
Showing up every day removes the pressure of having to have a huge breakthrough ASAP. No single day becomes more or less important than any other day — the value is in the aggregate.
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Isn’t it silly to think that as creative and entrepreneurial folks we should live without routine, discipline, or accountability?
Showing up every day is the best thing you can do for your business, your creativity, and your platform.
Give your ideas and your goals a fighting chance.
That said, you should join me and hundreds of others for Focus Camp this summer.
Focus Camp is a dorky name, I know. But it’s going to be a blast.
And this camp is all online — you don’t have to drive to the mountains.
It’s the perfect opportunity to connect with a community of incredible folks. People who are just as committed as you are to doing their best creative work and who are just as hungry to establish diligence and focus.
You can learn more about Focus Camp, and RSVP right here.
(Or: Why The Fastest Route to Doing Your Best Creative Work is to Show Up Every Day, Ship Early, and Ship Often.)
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As people who care deeply about what we do and what we create, our goal is always quality. We’re aiming to write or design or record the best work we can; always seeking to get better.
Like I said last week, as a creative person, it’s so easy to get wrapped up in the end product. You have this idea — this clever, beautiful, amazing thing you see in your mind. You want to make that, and anything less is unacceptable.
But, when you’re there, in the mire of your own work, it usually feels like anything but quality. It usually feels like crap.
As a writer, I never cease to amaze myself at my inability to find the words I am looking for. And then, when I can’t find them, I have no choice but to use the less-exciting words which have come to mind rather than those perfect ones which always seem to escape me.
It is in those moments where I have to remember that quantity leads to quality. Or, put another way, I’ve become comfortable with falling short of my own lofty expectations.
Today, the goal isn’t perfection. It’s far more simple: The goal is to show up and do the best work that I can.
Don’t believe that you must chose between creating a lot of something, or creating one thing that is a masterpiece. The former leads to the latter.
Yes, I want to be a fantastic writer. Yes, I want to write engaging, clever, and quotable works. Yes, I want my articles to be insightful and memorable. But I’ll never reach it if I quit while things seem poor. I cannot allow myself to only write when it feels inspired and en route to greatness.
If we sit around and wait for quality it won’t come.
Quality must be pursued.
In an article in The New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell cited psychologist Dean Simonton and brings up Simonton’s argument that quantity does, in fact, lead to quality:
The psychologist Dean Simonton argues that this fecundity is often at the heart of what distinguishes the truly gifted. The difference between Bach and his forgotten peers isn’t necessarily that he had a better ration of hits to misses. The difference is that the mediocre might have a dozen ideas, while Bach, in his lifetime, created more than a thousand full-fledged musical compositions. A genius is a genius, Simonton maintains, because he can put together such a staggering number of insights, ideas, theories, and observations, and unexpected connections that he almost inevitably ends up with something great. “Quality,” Simonton writes, is “a probabilistic function of quantity.”
In his book, Deep Work, Cal Newport also argues that along with the ability to focus, quality is a byproduct of quantity.
High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)
He then goes on to say that, “unless your talent and skills absolutely dwarf those of your competition, the deep workers among them will outproduce you.”
Moreover, the idea that quantity leads to quality is the same case Geoff Colvin makes in his book, Talent is Overrated. Stating that the world’s top performers are, for the most part, people just like you and I but who have (a) put in far more hours practicing their craft and (b) made the most of their practice time by practicing with intentionality and deep focus.
“One day at a time. It sounds so simple. It actually is simple, but it isn’t easy. It requires incredible support and fastidious structuring.” — Russell Brand
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Consider the fairytale of Goldilocks and the three bears.
Goldilocks happens upon the home of three bears while they’re out on a walk. She comes in and tastes their porridge, sits in their chairs, and sleeps in their beds.
The first bowl of porridge was too hot; the second, too cold; but the third was just right. And likewise for the chairs she sat in and the beds she napped in.
So it is in our pursuit of quality, excellence, and breakthrough…
At first we feel like intruders; imposters. Everything we put our hand to is not quite right. Too hot, too cold, to big, too small, hard, soft.
But then, after enough perseverance and focus, eventually, we create something that’s just right.
Here we are, the first Fantastic Friday of May. Welcome!
On a personal note, my wife and I are almost done unpacking! It’s been 3.5 weeks since we moved in to our new home. We’re down to just the last few boxes — I can see the light at the end of the tunnel!
As any of you who have moved can surely attest to, it’s not easy to keep going. Each day I try to do at least one if not two projects around the house — even if they’re small projects. Such as yesterday: I (finally) put up a hand towel holder in our master bathroom.
In other news, I’ve got something awesome planned for The Focus Course that we’ll be doing in June. I’ll share more information with you in just a few days. But here’s a hint: it may or may not involve a cowboy hat…
I’m a huge fan of Stephen King’s book, On Writing, but I’m not a fan of horror fiction. So I haven’t read any of King’s fiction books until now… 11/22/63 is about a man who travels back in time. It’s not horror fiction, and the storytelling is fantastic. I’m still early on in the book, so don’t tell me what happens.
Last week I linked to one of the episodes of Unemployable featuring Austin Kleon. Since then I’ve listened to about a dozen more episodes of the show. It’s fantastic. The episodes are short (usually just 20-30 minutes) and full of inspiration.
This is the album I’m listening to right now as I type up this week’s Fantastic Friday.
May is here, the seasons are changing, and it’s as good a time as any for a fresh desktop wallpaper. For this one I just went to Unsplash and searched for “mountains”.
There are two types of creative goals.
The first type of goal is the goal a project that you’re building. Something you’re making. A goal of something that does not exist and that you are in process of creating.
The second is a goal related to your creative output. Your skill set, your talent, your ideas, inspiration, motivation.
The two go hand in hand. Each one needs the other.
Because, as we’ll dive in to next week, quantity leads to quality. The more you do the work and the more you learn by shipping — then, in turn, the more you will grow in your skills. And, the more you grow in your skills the more you’ll be able to reach your goals for the work you create.
Loving the Process
How much do you enjoy the journey of creativity?
What if there was no end result? What if it was just a process of day in and day out. Showing up and showing your work?
Are you content in the creative process?
Are you content with your creative process?
When I think back to the building and launching of The Focus Course, what I remember most is the whole story and all the work leading up to the launch.
It started with a few dozen podcast episodes for the Shawn Today members. Those episodes turned into chapters of a book that never got published because I changed my mind about the book and began creating an online course instead. I mapped the whole thing out on my floor with index cards. I then led a small pilot group through the course using an email list…
That whole process, that year-long creative journey, was so much fun. It was exhilarating.
The launch of the Focus Course was just a one-day event. One day.
Then, I went back to creating. I started working on the next version of the course.
Perhaps what’s most difficult is that feeling of overwhelm when you’re on the threshold of a new project and you see where you are right now and you compare it to where you hope to go, and it feels unsurmountable.
Ira Glass explains this so well. Take a few minutes to watch this video:
Remember this: start with the simplest step first.
You never outgrow that bit of advice.
No matter how advanced you are in your craft, how much experience you have, etc. You always have to start with the first step.
As a creative person, it’s so easy to get wrapped up in the end product. You have this idea — this clever, beautiful, amazing thing you see in your mind. And you want to make that. Anything less is unacceptable.
The problem, however, is that this clever, beautiful, amazing thing you see is completely unreasonable as the first version.
The first version is the baby version…
It’s small. It’s naked. It’s crying at first contact with the real world. It needs to be nursed and continually cared for and swaddled. It poops its pants whenever you’re not looking. It won’t even let you sleep through the night.
But with proper care and feeding, your baby will grow up. It will mature. And, over time, it will learn to stand on its own.
If you’re in it for the long run, be encouraged…
Starting small isn’t something you “settle” for. Rather, it’s the proper way to get going. And when you commit your time and energy to your creative goals, you will see progress.
As we’ll talk about more next week, a commitment to quality is what gives motivation to show up every day. And showing up every day — that quantity of work — is what leads to creating with quality.
P.S. I’m planning something awesome for Focus Course members that will begin next month. I’ll let you know more about that next week as well.
Creativity and business are both packed to the rafters with risk. If you’re trying to do your best creative work or if you’re building a business, then you’re going to have to take risks.
But they don’t have to be wild, all-in bets. And, you can have fun in the process.
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Risk is part of creativity
Have you ever found yourself staring down the barrel of a project, and you say:
“This might not work.”
Hopefully that’s a common phrase for you. Because when you’re not sure if something will work, that’s when you know you’re on to something.
Perhaps the idea or the project itself won’t prove to be successful, but that’s okay. Merely trying something out that may or may not prove to be great is worth the effort.
Ernest Hemingway’s advice was to “write drunk, edit sober.”
Create without inhibition. Create without fear of failure; without mind for other people’s opinions; without fear of rejection; without feeling like an impostor.
As Derek Sivers writes in his book, Anything You Want:
Business is as creative as the fine arts. You can be as unconventional, unique, and quirky as you want. A business is a reflection of the creator. Pay close attention to what excites you and what drains you. Pay close attention to when you’re being the real you and when you’re trying to impress an invisible jury.
Risk will always be a part of the creative process. Because creativity is not a science — it’s filled with objectivity that changes from within and without based on the weather.
There’s no sure fire way to make something awesome. There’s no proven formula to go viral. There’s no such thing as literal overnight success.
Get comfortable with risk. When you know that risk is just part of the game, it helps you in your fight to stay creative.
Moreover, if you can be comfortable with risk in your creative work, you will, in turn, be more comfortable with risk in your business.
That’s important because…
Risk is Part of Business
Five years ago, when I quit my job and began working for myself, I took the “leap” to writing full time.
It’s called a “leap” for a reason.
Going full-time with my writing was a risk.
I was standing at the edge of a cliff. There was a gap, and there was another cliff across from me. I had to leap from not-full-time and hope made it across to the other side.
Standing at the edge, there was no bridge that was going to come build itself. I had gone as far as I could with the time and the resources I had available to me. I could either remain there in that spot, or I could take a leap and hope to make it to the other side.
So many people get get to that same spot. That spot where they’ve gone as far as they can with the time and resources available to them. But then, once they’re there, they stop and wait.
Who knows what they’re waiting for. More time? More resources?
It’s (probably) not time or money that’s the biggest issue holding them back. I think it’s fear.
However, that’s not to say you should throw caution to the wind. When I took the leap into my full-time writing gig, I most certainly did my due diligence and was prepared financially. (Which is a topic worthy of its own book.)
You’ve got to make sure you…
Minimize Financial Risk
When I quit my job, I had:
- No kids, no debt, an emergency fund saved up, my wife had a part-time income.
- My website was already making some money ($1,000 / month).
- I also had a plan to front-load 90-days worth of income by having the membership subscription charge people quarterly instead of monthly.
The best-case scenario was obviously that I would be able to earn enough revenue to pay all our bills and keep writing full-time. Fortunately, that’s how things have turned out so far.
But the worst-case scenario really wouldn’t have been that terrible. If, after having given the writing gig my full-time attention for 90 full days without seeing any traction, I would have gone to get a part-time job somewhere and then returned to the drawing board.
Basically, if the membership model hadn’t worked out, it would have been embarrassing but not catastrophic.
Over the years, as I’ve slowly built a business around writing and publishing, I’ve continued to minimize financial risk by doing things like staying out of debt and moving at the speed of cash and saving up a business emergency fund.
But there is more at risk than just the financials themselves. You also want to make sure what it is you’re creating is actually of value to others. You want your creative endeavors to fly.
How can you do that?
Minimize the Risk of Failure
There are so many ways you can minimize the risk of your project failing. The way I know best is through consistently writing.
Writing helps you get your thoughts out onto paper. It helps you get your ideas in order. And it gives you assets you can use for your business and creative endeavors.
It’s also what you have to do first before you publish anything. Writing an article, a podcast outline, a video outline, etc. You’ve got to write if you want to publish content.
And, quite frankly, publishing content is one of the best things you can do to minimize the risk of your next big project being a flop.
By writing and publishing, you’re doing three huge things:
- Opening a feedback loop between you and your audience (the people who will buy from you, spread the word about your work, etc.).
- Giving away value and helping others.
- Establishing yourself as someone who is credible and who cares.
And so, yes, you minimize the risk of failure by showing up every day. It’s not about numbers, it’s about connections.
As Jeffery Feldman says (quoted from Austin Kleon in in Show your work!):
What you want is to follow and be followed by human beings who care about issues you care about. This thing we make together. This thing is about hearts and minds, not eyeballs.
Showing up every day, teaching what you know, and connecting with your audience by being honest is how you actually connect with folks.
Now that you’re comfortable with risk, it’s time to…
Celebrate Your Progress
When you’ve taken a risk, give yourself a high five. 🙌
Keep track of what you create, what you ship, what you sell, what you were expecting to happen, what actually happened, what worked, what didn’t work, etc.
I do this by journaling in Day One.
Celebrating progress keeps up your intrinsic motivation. It’s also an excellent way to keep track of your growth and lessons learned.
Because in a few months time, you’ll have forgotten all about that risk you just took because you’ll be on to the next one.
Which is why next week I want to share about how to set creative goals and actually make progress.
The risk part is just one big step. But then, after you’ve taken that initial leap — the first big risky move — what comes next is all the hard work of iteration.
Setting creative goals is also critical because you’ve got 100 ideas for inspiration. You need a goal so you know what to focus your time and energy on. Without creative goals, you’re like a wave in the ocean, being tossed to and fro with the wind.
* * *
This was part five in a series of articles I’ve been writing about creativity and entrepreneurship lessons learned after five years as a full-time self-employed writer. You can find the previous four articles here:
Hello friends, and welcome to another edition of Fantastic Friday.
The past two Fridays have been silent because, as you know by now, my family and I moved into a new home. We’re nearly settled in! As fun as it is to move to a new place, I’m ready to get back to life as normal.
This week’s edition of Fantastic Friday, I’ve got a few gadgets for you. One is a new one you may never have heard about but if you have an Apple TV you definitely need it. The others are not new, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth talking about.
Enjoy. And I hope you have a great weekend.
If you’ve got one of the latest-generation Apple TVs you know how awkward the Siri remote is. It’s difficult to tell which way is the proper way to hold it, and there’s no easy way to pick it up without fear of accidentally fast forwarding.
This case / cover for the remote solves all the handling problems of the remote. It makes it feel safe to pick up, you know which way to hold it, and it’s easier to hold.
2. The Apple Watch
Speaking of Apple gear, my pal Casey Liss recently wrote an article about how it’s becoming “trendy to be smug about the Apple Watch.” I’ve noticed this here and there for sure. Though, from where I’m sitting, most of my friends who bought an Apple Watch still wear it. As do I.
During our move I couldn’t remember which box I packed my Apple Watch charging cable in. It took me a few days to find the box and thus I went 48 hours or so without my Apple Watch. And it was a massive bummer.
I don’t use my Apple Watch for much, but what I do use it for is so helpful. I love being able to quickly reply to incoming text message threads; I love seeing what the outside temperature is every time I glance at my watch; I love being able to control the music we’re AirPlaying from my wrist; I love having one-tap access to a timer; I even love the Watch’s alarm chime far more than my iPhone’s.
The only two gripes I have about this incredible first-generation gadget is that I’d love it to be faster (especially when using Siri dictation), and I’d love for it to be even smarter about turning on the display when I’m trying to see what time it is. Otherwise, the conveniences the Apple Watch provide are fantastic.
I’ve had my Apple Watch for nearly a year now. I suppose a proper year-later review is in order…
So I finally broke down and bought a Sonos speaker. Thanks in no small part to a gift card from a friend. (Thanks, Tyler!) We’ve had the Play:1 for about a month and I’m still not sure about it. I’ll probably write more about my Sonos at some point in the near future, but for now my thoughts boil down to this: The speaker sounds absolutely incredible, but using the Sonos app is not so great.
What about you guys? Do you have a Sonos setup? It seems that if you’re going to go Sonos, you should go all-in with them and not just get one speaker for one room.
I’ve long been a fan of Simplenote. And once again the app proved its usefulness as I used it to compile pretty much all of the notes and ideas and other random tidbits of information related to our move. With things getting packed into boxes and just generally thrown into a tizzy for about 6 weeks, one thing I did have on me at all times was my iPhone. So, having a singular central spot for all the necessary information related to our move was so helpful.
“Perpetual devotion to what a man calls his business, is only to be sustained by perpetual neglect of many other things.”
That’s Robert Louis Stevenson.
I love that quote for two reasons. Not only is it good life advice, but it’s also a word of warning.
To be perpetually devoted to something does require perpetual neglect of many other things. This is one of the huge themes throughout The Focus Course: finding clarity about what to focus and also what to let alone. (In the words of David Allen, you can do anything, but you can’t do everything.)
Stevenson’s quote is also a cautionary one. Among the most common regrets of the dying is having worked too hard and, in turn, neglecting relationships, values, and even their own happiness.
May devotion to our business not be sustained by neglect of our health, relationships, values, and even our own happiness.
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I’ve got an “all in” type of personality.
When I’m working on a project or an idea Iget very single minded. I focus in on that project and I can hardly think about anything else.
It’s why I spent an inordinate amount of time trying out clickey keyboards.
It’s why I took 10 days off of work to move my family into a new home.
And, since building a business is a project in an of itself, I discovered early on that because of my “all in” personality my business had the potential to take over every other area of my life.
I want my business to add to the quality of my life. Not only is it something I’m building with long-term goals in mind, but it’s also something I enjoy working on today — right now.
While I’m a firm believer in the importance of showing up every day to do the work, after so many hours worked in the day there is a point where time spent at work is pretty much just wasted time.
How pitiful and ironic would it be if our creative work took over our time and attention so much that it suffocated the creativity right out of us?
* * *
For the past few years on my birthday, I have been writing down a retrospective of sorts into my Day One journal.
I write down what highlights I remember from the past year, what projects and events I was proud of, what things I regret having done (or regret having not done), and more. I also write down what I want to do more of in the future.
Examples of things from the past year I’m glad I did:
- Building and launching The Focus Course
- Putting energy into building a thoughtful approach to content “marketing” and “strategy” through my email newsletter. (Something I plan to write much more about.)
- Taking a week-long vacation in Steamboat Springs with my wife to celebrate our 10-year anniversary.
- A last-minute trip to Atlanta to connect with a new friend.
- Attending and speaking at Circles Conference.
- Attending game 6 of the ALCS before the Royals went on to win the World Series.
- Reading more books
These are just a few things. And they remind me that the day-to-day minutia of running a business is necessary, but it’s not nearly as urgent as it often feels. And that I’m happiest when I’m on a memorable trip or event or else creating something of substance with a long-term shelf life.
Choosing something until it chooses you back
Last July, on my birthday, I wrote this in my Day One:
Life is almost entirely a series of small, nearly-inconsequential choices and moments. All the little things that I do (and don’t do) are what paint the picture of my life. If I want a different life, make a small change to sone thing and stick with it.
It’s a choice to live a life with healthy boundaries. It’s a choice to give our time and attention to the things that matter most.
And, probably the best way to learn how you best balance work and life is through trial and error.
Life will zig and zag. It will ebb and flow.
Something I can’t unpack right now is the idea that margin in your work schedule can actually give you the strength to take risks and have fun in the process.
Don’t let the boundaries between your work and family life be dictated by social expectations. Rather by authenticity to your goals, visions, and values.
P.S. The podcast interview I did with Havilah Cunnington was awesome. We discussed balancing family with creative entrepreneurship.
As I type this, I’m surrounded by cardboard boxes.
My desk is temporarily crammed here in the corner of the guest room.
The Monument Valley soundtrack is playing (as always), but this time it’s via my iMac’s not-so-great, built-in speakers.
You see, we just moved.
I feel like the above photo sums up my life pretty well right now: a bunch of stuff packed into a bin; mostly construction tools plus my Baron Fig notebook and trusty pen.
Here in my “office” (a.k.a. the guest room), I see boxes of kids toys and books we haven’t yet unpacked. There are all of our picture frames and paintings leaning against the wall. Even a couple of lamps sitting on the floor.
To my right: more boxes! Pretty much my entire office is in those boxes. Cables, podcasting gear, even the books I’m currently reading (or at least was reading before we packed them up two weeks ago).
And all this is after I spent the past 3 days ruthlessly unpacking what was in this room. It’s a miracle we’ve slimmed it down to just the 10 boxes here right now. (Whatever you do, don’t look in the garage.)
* * *
It was a little less than 12 weeks ago that my wife, Anna, and I first had a conversation about moving. Now, three months later, we’ve sold our old house, bought a new one, and are moved in (ish).
It was a sprint. But we also had incredible fortune along every step of the way…
The first day we went out looking for houses with our realtor, we found the home we wanted. A few days later we put in our offer, and, despite it being a seller’s market here in Kansas City we were able to buy our new home for less than market value.
To sell our old home, the only fixing up we had to do was refinish the hardwood floors. When we listed it, we got 3 offers the first day and sold it for asking price in less than 24 hours after putting it on the market.
Despite everything going so smoothly, the process itself of moving has still been incredibly time consuming.
I completely underestimated how much time it would take to move.
I also underestimated how many boxes we’d need, how much would be left over to pack up or throw away after we got the obvious stuff taken care of, and how much time it would take to unpack.
Friends warned me about all of that. And I thought I had a pretty good grasp on the scope of work. But I was wrong.
And, the way things landed, we closed on our new on April 4th. The very same day as the 5-year anniversary of when I began writing at shawnblanc.net full-time.
I had a series of articles I had written out for that week to share what I’d learned after 5 years of being an indie writer and running a small business.
But the events surrounding our closing completely took over my time.
Our scheduled closing on the new house was delayed by 72 hours.
And the delay in closing had a whole slew of challenges that came with it, and it ate up all the margin I had in my work schedule.
I had to choose to take some unexpected time off of work in order to focus on moving and being as present as I could with my family during the transition.
Though I had planned ahead for my writing schedule, I clearly didn’t plan ahead enough. I ended up not writing for 10 days in a row. Which is why it’s been silent here for so long.
My apologies for the extended period of silence.
This morning is the first time I’ve been able to sit down and write in almost two weeks time. It feels great to be writing again.
Now that we’re past the craziness and things are slowly returning to normal, so too will my writing and podcasting schedule.
This week I’ll be picking back up where I left of with my series about creativity and entrepreneurship. You can catch the first three articles here, here, and here. And the timing is actually pretty great — on Wednesday I’ll be sharing about work-life balance and always keeping family first. Something I literally just walked through.
* * *
Also, on the nerdy side, I’ll soon be posting an update to my Sweet Mac Setup. Right now we’re still in the middle of building out my office space here at the new house. Though it won’t quite be my dream workspace, it will certainly the best so far.
A few days ago I asked this question:
Is there a path to creative success?
As I’m sure you know, the answer is yes.
Now, the definition of success varies wildly. But I like to define creative success like this:
The ability to do creative work we’re proud of and to keep doing that work.
By that measure, most of you reading this are already creatively successful. You just might not know it yet.
If there is a path to creative success, what is it?
Here’s part of it: Consistency.
Choosing to show up ever day.
Choosing to do the hard and frightful work, day in and day out. Not waiting for permission. Not waiting for inspiration. Not waiting for a faster, fancier, more expensive gizmogadget.
Whatever it is you want to do with your art, you have to show up every day and make something. Failing to do this will be your single biggest roadblock to doing your best creative work.
As you know, I’ve been at this full-time writing racket for 5 years now. And still, day after day, for 5 years, one of the biggest challenges is to get my butt in the chair and write.
Once I’m here, typing, the second biggest challenge is to be honest.
Because — as I mentioned yesterday — when it comes to creativity and entrepreneurship, I consider the most important advice I to be this: focus on consistency and honesty.
Consistency and honesty are, I believe, the backbone for how you can make a living as a creative entrepreneur / artist.
Consistency is important for two reasons:
First off, the internet thrives on patterns and regularity; showing up every day lets people know they can rely on you to be there. It also keeps things moving and is the “machine” you use to build your business assets and stock and flow content.
Secondly, even if you’re a talentless dweeb like me, writing (or doing anything) every day will help you become better at that craft.
Honesty is important because it’s how you build trust with others. (Obviously.)
Do you want to earn the respect and long-term attention of your audience? Be honest. Always seek to provide at least 51% of the value between you and your readership.
Regardless of how you serve your audience, always give as much as possible. It’s not about you, it’s about them.
Do this and you’ll be signing up to play the long game. By building trust and providing “preeminent” value, you’re proving to folks that you’re the real deal and you have something to offer.
Five years ago, when I first announced that I was quitting my job to write here for a living, I asked people to sign up for a subscribing membership at $3/month.
400 of you signed up the first day.
As much as I like to think you signed up because my sales pitch was awesome and heart-felt, the truth is that it was awesome and heart-felt… No, seriously, those of you signed up for a membership back in 2011 did so because I’d been writing consistently on my site for several years. Over those years I built up trust you guys — with my readership — and so when I asked for your direct support, it was an easy decision for hundreds of you.
A few years later, when I launched The Focus Course, 600 of you signed up in that first week. And it wasn’t because The Focus Course has an awesome landing page (Though it certainly does. Thanks, Pat!). It’s because I’d been writing about focus for so long that you guys trusted the course was not just snake oil.
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To sum this all up:
People want to connect to the artist as much as (if not even more than) they want to connect to the art. That’s why a signed book is so much more valuable than the Kindle version; a live concert more memorable than listening to an album on iTunes.
Consistency means relationship building. Remember from 1,000 True Fans? This is where you connect with your readership, audience, customers, and provide ongoing value to them.
Consistency is also means doing the work every day. Never wait until you’re inspired to do the work because quantity leads to quality. (Which is a whole other topic we’ll dive into later.)
Honesty means making the choice to be transparent and genuine. Have fun.
Showing up to do the work every day isn’t easy. And there’s more to it than just putting your butt in the chair and writing for an hour.
You’ve also got to think about how you’re spending your time and energy when you’re not in the chair. Up next, I’ll be sharing about keeping life in balance.
Quitting my job to blog for a living was so embarrassing.
It didn’t seem like a “real job”.
People would always ask me questions like: “So what exactly is it that you do?” And I never knew how to answer them.
(Actually, I still don’t know how to answer that question.)
It’s been five years now, and I’m so glad I took that dorky risk.
As I reflect on these past five years and share what I’ve learned, my default is to focus on the creativity aspect. I love talking about how to show up every day or how to build an audience of awesome and smart people. I want to dive in to to the topic of doing our best creative work.
But over these past five years I’ve also learned about bootstrapping and running a business. I’ve learn the ins and outs of starting and building a business through experience, trial, success, and error.
There is so much involved with being an independent creative entrepreneur.
For one, you have to have the creativity side. This includes:
- Finding own vision and voice for your creative work;
- Showing up every day to do that work;
- Being focused with your time and energy;
- Staying inspired;
- Having fun.
Creativity is critical. And, as we’ll get to another time, it’s so important to show up every day to do the hard, creative work.
But just as important as creativity is the entrepreneurial side…
- You’ve can’t be so romantic about making money that you never get around to earning a dollar.
- You have to be willing to take risks and experiment with new ideas.
- You have to get good at making money.
- You have to learn how to budget, project, save, invest, make a return, and live well beneath your means. Otherwise your business will never get the financial root system it needs in order to thrive.
Creativity and business chops. You need both.
Later this week I’ll be sure to share some of the things I’ve done over the past five years to make money. But first…
Knowing that both the creative aspect and the business aspect are so important, I want to dive into what’s I think is needed to write on the internet for a living.
(This could go for just about anything, really. Writing is what I know best, but this stuff goes for podcasts, newsletters, photography, etc.)
Basically, if I were brand new and starting out fresh… if I were giving advice to my past self… these would be the highlights of that conversation.
Show up every day: I’m going to touch on this more, but showing up every day is vital. This is how you strengthen your own creative muscle, it’s how you improve your skills, and it’s also how you build your audience. (Recommended reading: Show Your Work.)
Plan ahead: It took me years to figure this one out. You’ll do better work in less time with less stress if you know where you’re going. (Not sure how to have a plan for your creative work, The Focus Course will get you there.)
Invest in mentorship, learning, and courses: Because you don’t have all the answers, you have blind spots, and you need someone to cheerlead for you and help you figure things out.
Celebrate your progress: When you’re able to recognize that you’re making progress in your work, it helps you stay motivated. Also, journaling about your business and creative endeavors as you go through them today is an asset you can use in down the road as a sort of “advice to your future self”.
Sell stuff: You get good at making money the same way you get good at anything else: practice. So, sell early and sell often. This will help you learn about pricing, sales, and providing value to others. It also helps you to get comfortable with charging money for the work you do. Something many of us aren’t naturally comfortable with.
Automate / eliminate / delegate as much as possible: It seems everyone know says they waited too long before learning to delegate. This is a great way to break your broken workflow habits and free yourself up to spend your time better. And it’s not just for the sake of being more “productive” at work — it’s also so you can have more down time to rest, think, and be with friends and family.
The tools you have are almost certainly good enough: This one applies to the nerds in the room. I’m an incessant tinkerer. While it’s fun to always be looking for the next best thing, it’s also a huge distraction. Maybe it’s my old age, but I’m far more content with the tools I have today that I ever have been. If it works well and helps me do what’s important, then I’m not going to try and replace it just for the sake of change.
Always be honest and sincere: This is critical because the best way to build an audience is through trust. Being genuine and telling your story is how you build trust.
Work hard, but don’t work nonstop: Easier said than done for many of us. The ideas and action items are never-ending. That’s why I schedule my time off and even plan ahead for how I’ll spend that down time. Otherwise my tendency is to work on just one more thing.
Have an ideal reader / customer / client / fan: When I first began writing, there were two specific people who I wrote for. I would always gauge my articles and topics through their eyes, making sure I was writing something that would be interesting and helpful to them.
Now that I’m working on building The Focus Course website, we’ve spent a ton of time defining what our ideal customer looks like. We’re using surveys, personal emails and conversations, and more. It’s a much different approach than just guessing or making stuff up, and it means we’re actually able to help people with what’s most important to them.
Take risks: Every time I’ve felt out on a ledge, not sure if something would work, it turned out pretty great in the end. This is not an advocation to be reckless, but it is permission to try something new.
Trust your gut: I don’t know about you, but I spend a lot of time second guessing myself. I question if I’m doing things right; if I’m missing something; if I’m even making progress. Other people can give advice and input, but to do your best creative work you’ve got to follow the dream in your heart.
Not to go all Mr. Rogers here, but it’s true. If you’ve got an idea or a hunch that just won’t let go, then focus on it.
Which is why, if I had to boil it all down to what I consider to be the most important advice I have for creative entrepreneurship, it would be this: focus on consistency and honesty.
We’ll dive more into that one tomorrow.
It was Monday morning.
My first day on the job. And I was completely underprepared with no idea what to write about.
I felt terrible.
That was exactly five years ago today.
What I did end up writing about has turned into a piece I return to often:
“Writing should be about standing behind your work and truly caring about what it is you have to say,” I wrote. “If you happen to be good with words then congratulations. Dispassionate beautiful prose, however, is still dispassionate. Or, as Anatole France put it, ‘a tale without love is like beef without mustard: insipid.'”
It has always been a challenge for me to write with honesty and passion.
When you put your heart into something and then get criticized for it, that hurts. And so, in a way, we shy back a bit and put just enough transparency into our writing to give it a hint of breath and no more.
To make it worse, once the economic success of this site hinged in no small part on the continued growth of a strong membership base, there was a sudden pressure to write for everyone all at once.
Not only did I feel a great expectation on my work, I had no clue what I would publish on that first day. Or what would come the next day or the next.
(I’ve learned that this is just one of the who-knows-how-many roadblocks there are to doing your best creative work. And that’s something we’ll definitely dive into more later this week because it’s so important.)
In that article from 5 years ago, I shared that though the pressures and expectations were new, I was intent on staying steady in my writing pursuits. I planned to continue doing the same writing with the same focus that had brought me the opportunity to write full-time in the first place.
Five years of that day-in-and-day-out work, here we are today. And things certainly look different.
Back then it was just me with just one website: shawnblanc.net. Now there is a small team of us and a small network of websites: shawnblanc.net, Tools & Toys, The Sweet Setup, and The Focus Course. (Hi, Bradley, Chris, Stephen, Jeff, Josh, and Isaac!)
Yes, the scope of the writing has certainly grown. But I believe the focus of the writing has not.
That focus is still two-fold:
- To help you, the reader.
- To have fun in the creative process.
If you care about doing your best creative work, you’re in the right place.
I continue to look forward to iterating, improving, and generally upping the overall awesomeness of our humble network of websites.
Perhaps you’ve been here since the very first post. Or perhaps you are brand new to this site. Thank you! I am grateful that you’ve chosen to show up, sign up, and be part of this journey.
This week and next I’m going to be sharing stories and more about the past five years. We’re going to talk about the creative side as well as the business side.
After being in this racket for 5 years, I want to share what I see as the most important things about writing on the internet for a living. How to improve your craft. How to balance work life and family life when your work life is tied to the internet that’s in your pocket.
And, the elusive question I’ve been wondering about most for the past half-decade: Is there a path to creative success?
Hopefully by now you’ve had a chance to make your cup of coffee. Because this week I have a few articles for you to read with your morning coffee.
But these quotes and articles are special for another reason.
On Monday, it will be the 5-year anniversary of when I began my gig as a full-time, indie writer. To “celebrate” I’m doing something special next week.
Today’s Fantastic Friday links are to particular articles that have been meaningful or impactful to me in some way over the past 5 years.
And, I have to say, picking out just 4 articles was nigh impossible. I had to print out the titles and URLs of at least 100 different articles from my Instapaper Likes and Pinboard bookmarks. Then I put them all up on a wall and threw four darts.* The four items below are the ones that got stuck.
* Okay, not really. But I should have thrown darts. That would have been awesome.
No doubt you’ve heard of this Kevin Kelly article, if you haven’t already read it once or twice (or a dozen times — ahem).
Kelly’s proposal is that an independent artist needs only about 1,000 True Fans to make a living. Ideally, the artist has a direct connection with his or her fan base and is able to create art directly for those people.
Over my years as an indie writer, I have tried to be honest and transparent with you: my “true fans”. I have tried to write about things and create things that are as helpful and exciting for you to read or use as they are for me to put together.
And, in my experience, it’s feasible.
Not that I have a count on how many “true fans” are around. But I do know that it takes less people than you’d think to help you earn a living, so long as you’re doing your best to provide as much value in return as possible.
I remember reading this article years ago, and I’ve never forgotten about it. Michael Lopp is one of my favorite writers, and his Nerd Handbook article is a riot.
(It’s funny because it’s true!)
If you’re a nerd, read it and weep. Then forward it to you significant other. If you’re not a nerd, you might be married to one, so you had still better read it.
Now we come to Frank Chimero. Frank’s writing is clear and incredible. His book, The Shape of Design, is one of my all-time favorite books.
And, as with most of Franks writing, in his article about What Screens Want you’ll find a secret message that’s not so much about design as it is about being intentional with our choices (and loosening up a bit).
Take the time to read Frank’s article straight through on the site. And be sure you’re in a setting where you can watch the short in-line videos.
This article from Jason Fried is just a little over 5 years old, and I have referenced it over and over again. In short: you get good at making money the same way you get good at anything else: practice.
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In other news…
Exactly five years ago today, I was taking the day off. Yep. I remember it clearly.
I had just quit my job as a marketing and creative director and was about to start my new job as a work-for-myself, work-from-home writer.
It seemed reasonable to give myself a 3-day weekend before starting my new job. So I took Friday off. Then, on Monday, April 4, 2011, I started my new job as a full-time, indie writer.
Five years later, I’m still here. Thanks entirely to you, dear reader.
Next week I’ve got each day planned out. I’ll be sharing stories about the past five years and more. Can’t wait!
Next week my family is moving to a new home about 5 minutes down the road.
Anna and I are expecting our third child this fall (!). So we are about to officially outgrow the small home we’ve lived in for the past 11 years.
I’ve been thinking about this massive life transition — selling our current home, moving to a new one, having our third child.
And I was also just thinking about the past few months.
2016 continues to march on, one day at a time.
What were your plans for 2016?
What was one of your goals? Was there a hint of an idea of something you wanted to do?
Three months into the year… how are things going?
Today, I don’t have any answers or advice for you.
Just a question…
If you’re not yet where you were expecting be, what are going to do about it?
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Speaking of 2016, for those keeping track at home, in just a few days — on Monday, April 4 — it will be the 5-year anniversary (!) of when I quit my job to start blogging for a living.
(Some of you folks have been reading my dorky writing for 5 whole years (maybe even longer). Wow, thank you!)
As I look back at the creative work I’ve done over the past five years, I feel proud of it.
But I also envision so much more that I hope to do, and so much more ground to cover in my skills as a writer and business owner.
And so all this has made me think about what it is that helps us get from where we are to where we want to be.
Not just for my humble journey, but for all of us.
How can you, dear reader, get from where you are today to where you want to be in 5 years from now.
Next week, let’s talk about it. See you then.
Unknown to both my wife and I, our coffee grinder was losing its edge.
Nearly four years ago, Anna bought me a Bodum Bistro Grinder for my birthday. It was an awesome little grinder for a great price.
I used it every single day. Until one day, it broke.
We replaced it with the king of the hill: a Baratza Virtuoso.
And wow. The first cup of coffee using our new grinder was a revelation.
Who knew a great coffee grinder was so important? I mean, I knew they were important, but seriously the difference was huge.
In addition to the new grinder, the other (somewhat recent) addition to my coffee arsenal is the Kalita Wave. We’ll get to it in a minute. But I have to say that the Wave has officially replaced the AeroPress as my daily brewer. What a time to be alive.
All that said, this week you get to peek into the four key components of my daily coffee. (Since I keep the list to just four things, one thing had to leave out was my kitchen scale.)
It all starts with beans. Freshly roasted coffee beans make all the difference.
However, you may prefer to have freshly roasted beans delivered to your door. This is great for folks who don’t like going outside or for those who don’t have a great coffee roaster nearby where you can easily get access to freshly roasted coffee.
If you’re searching for a coffee delivery service, I highly recommend Crema.co.
Crema.co is like Netflix but for coffee. You add the coffees that you want to your list, and then you select how often you want a bag of coffee shipped to you.
This differs from coffee subscription services like Blue Bottle, because Crema lets you pick what you get. Where as with Blue Bottle, you get what they’re roasting.
I’ve gotten beans from Crema and I was very impressed. Great service, great pricing, great coffee.
This is the grinder we went with, and it’s fantastic. Here at the Blanc household, we like to buy things for life. So we went with a grinder that is excellent at its job, but also should last us for quite a while.
As I mentioned last week, this pour-over coffee maker has become my new favorite.
What I like about the Wave is that it can make a larger cup of coffee than my AeroPress (350g+ versus 250g), and I think the coffee it makes is much better than what you get from the v60.
I know everyone says that the AeroPress is super duper easy to clean. And it is, but I think a pour-over contraption like this is even easier to clean. You just dump the filter into the trash and rinse out the dripper itself. There are no moving parts, no lids, etc.
There are about 150 different variations of this glass bottle on Amazon. I’m pretty sure they’re all made at the same place, and everyone gets a turn putting their logo on the front.
What I like about my double-walled glass compared to my stainless-steel thermos is that the bottle is easier to clean in the dishwasher and it doesn’t fiddle with the flavor of my coffee.
Of course, the tradeoff is that the glass bottle doesn’t keep my coffee as hot for as long.
The glass bottle is also great for cold drinks, since the outside of it won’t sweat onto your desk.
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What better to go with awesome coffee than something to read? I’ll be sharing some great quotes and articles in next week’s edition of Fantastic Friday.
About 18 months ago I stopped buying non-fiction books on Kindle.
At first, it was all about the money.
In my research for creating The Focus Course I was buying a slew of books. And used paperback books from Amazon are 50-75% cheaper than their Kindle counterparts.
Of course, it’s not just about the money. Used books also come with their own charm.
Getting a book with someone else’s highlights was a glimpse into what another person had gleaned from the same book I was now reading. Or, sometimes you knew the book had been given to someone because the first page had a note written from one friend to another. Some books were even signed by the author with a brief salutation to the reader — no doubt someone who had waited in line at a book signing.
In addition to the price and the history, buying physical books had another massive advantage:
Physical books are easier to read and digest quickly.
When reading for the sake of learning, it’s more efficient and more effective to have a physical book. For example, you can quickly skim through certain chapters if you want. Or you can jump forward and backward without losing context for where you are in the book.
I especially loved having a dozen books all spread out at once and pulling from different ones as I was working on different topics for The Focus Course.
Recently I picked up another trick for taking better notes within paper books…
An Alternate Index of Ideas
I learned this trick from Maria Popova during her podcast conversation with Tim Ferris. (The part of the conversation where they discuss note-taking begins just past 38-minutes, fyi.)
Your own index is something you put in the back of the book (or the front if you prefer). It’s a list of the book’s themes and topics that most resonate with you, and the pages which have the best quotes and ideas around those topics.
Your index doesn’t even have to fit perfectly in line with the main theme of the book you’re reading.
For example, my index for The Personal MBA includes a topic on Audience Building. Since, for me, that is a critical component to my business. However, there are no chapters or sections specifically about building an audience.
Here’s how to create your own index:
- Start reading the book.
- When you encounter a quote, phrase, statistic, or idea that stands out to you, highlight it.
- Now, think about what the theme or idea this highlight fits in to.
- Go to the back of the book where there will always be a few blank pages.
- Write down the name of the theme or idea.
- Write down the page number of your highlight.
- Return to your spot and continue reading.
Maria Popova says: “It’s an index based not on keywords, but on ideas.”
As I mentioned above, I’ve been working my way through Josh Kaufman’s fantastic book, The Personal MBA. (Speaking of, isn you’re interested at all in business and entrepreneurship, I can’t recommend The Personal MBA enough. It’s a bargain at 10x the price.)
Here’s a photograph of my Alternate Index so far from The Personal MBA:
You can see that so far, the main themes I’ve been taking away from the book are related to: (1) building an audience; (2) business in general; and (3) decision making.
The fourth index item you see — “B.L.” — stands for Beautiful Language.
Beautiful Language is just a catch-all for phrases or quotes that stand out to you but which may not necessarily fit into a particular category of your index.
Here are four phrases I’ve highlighted from The Personal MBA, categorized from my own index of the book:
On Audience Building:
“The more important you make [other people] feel, the more they’ll value their relationship with you. […] The more interest you take in other people, the more important they will feel. […] Make an effort to be present and curious.”
My takeaway: the best way to build an audience is to treat them with appreciation, courtesy, and respect.
“Bootstrapping is the art of building and operating a business without funding. […] Having 100 percent ownership and control of a profitable, self-sustaining business is a beautiful thing.”
My takeaway: Building a business is fun and rewarding. It doesn’t have to be about the money. It can be about the work itself.
On Decision Making:
“If you’re a natural maximizer, it’s tempting to overanalyze every decision to make sure you’ve chosen the very best option available, which can easily go well past the point of diminishing returns. Don’t get bogged down with all of the options available — consider only what appear to be the best alternatives at the time of your decision.”
My takeaway: Action brings clarity. Make the best choice I can, then move on and know that I can adjust course and make additional choices in the future.
A great quote (beautiful language):
Your business does not have to bring in millions or billions of dollars to be successful. If you have enough profit to do the things you need to do to keep the business running and make it worth your time, you’re successful, no matter how much revenue your business brings in.
My takeaway: Don’t get so caught up in the building of a business that I lose sight of the bigger picture of living a life without regret, loving my family, and providing real value to others.
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I’ve only recently begun using this Alternate Index approach in the past six months or so. But as I work my way through the queue of unread books on my shelf, I’ll be sure to share more ideas and quotes.